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Although Miriam is a councillor, she disagrees with a bylaw that affects her personally. She believes in natural gardens and she has cultivated one on the boulevard outside her home on George Street.  To many people, a natural garden looks like weeds and it certainly looks different to most of the boulevards in town which are short grass.  So this is a problem - to many people, her garden looks like an overgrown mess although in a sense she is expressing her opinion and she should be entitled to that. There are two problems and she is fighting the town on both fronts.

  1. The bylaw passed earlier this year limited such boulevard gardens to eight inches in height. They can do this because the boulevard is town property.  This is no doubt aimed at "gardens" like hers as well as people who fail to cut the grass on their boulevards.  But the bylaw is really passing a judgement that says the town does not like natural gardens.
  2. Cobourg has a policy (perhaps unwritten) that many (perhaps all) bylaws are only enforced if someone complains.  There have been complaints about Miriam's garden but not about many others in town which also are higher than eight inches.  The difference is that they are not "natural" gardens so offend fewer people.  Bottom line, no-one has complained about them.

There are many bylaws that should be enforced independent of whether any complaints are received (e.g. The Winter Parking ByLaw ) but I'm sure the town would say - OK, if you want that, taxes will have to go up 10% (or therabouts) to pay for additional enforcement.  Probably not a popular move.

Because the bylaw is only enforced when someone complains, and no-one has complained about other boulevard gardens, Miriam has had her garden trimmed three times so far this year (third one on Oct 2) but others have been left untouched.  Anyone else would have given up by now but Miriam is a fighter.  I suspect most people would disagree with Miriam on the virtues of a natural garden but it does seem unfair that she is being "picked on".  Her right to an opinion on gardens - a form of free speech - is being denied.  On the other hand, it seems unfair that this bylaw is only enforced on the one boulevard.  If someone is complaining, it seems they think that other overheight boulevards are OK.

I think these facts point to the need to revisit the bylaw.  There should be one of three options adopted:

  1. The bylaw should spell out what kind of boulevard gardens are allowed - perhaps grass/turf only?  How else can you define it to not be one that some people find unpleasant? (Maybe hire an expensive lawyer to draft a bylaw that described allowable gardens? I think not.)
  2. The bylaw should should say that if someone complains, then all such boulevard gardens in the town should be trimmed. Anything else is discriminatory.
  3. The bylaw should be repealed.

Cecelia Naismith described an attempt at negotiation between the town and Miriam but it was unsuccessful. More here.

For reference, the Boulevard Maintenance ByLaw is here.

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